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Local students get music lessons from local blues musician

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Cottage Grove resident Joe Filipovich, 30, began playing music at age 7, but in seventh grade he was introduced to a style of music that would change the course of his life.

“I was first introduced to the sounds of Jimi Hendrix after my older cousin gave me the CD for a Christmas present,” he said. “The sounds from that guitar blew my mind and I was obsessed with the music ever since.”

The only downside to Filipovich’s love of the blues was that not many other people were playing it.

“There’s not a lot of people my age playing that music,” he said. “I pretty much sat by myself playing this music by myself in the basement because I never knew of any like-minded musicians.”

However Filipovich eventually found the Minnesota Blues Society, and he’s hoping to teach a whole new generation of blues musicians.

Filipovich kicked off a five-week blues workshop at East Ridge High School on Feb. 11. He also presented a blues harmonica workshop on the same day at Valley Crossing Community School.

Loving the blues

Filipovich was drawn to the blues as a child because of the feeling and emotion behind it.

“There’s such a realness, rawness to that music,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of ups and downs in my life and the blues music and blues guitar helped me cope with the good and the bad.”

Filipovich said he was fascinated at how the blues has evolved and influenced other music genres over the years — everything from classic rock to motown to jazz to funk.

Filipovich released his debut blues album in early 2015.

In addition to performing as a solo musician, Filipovich offers private lessons and blues workshops. He also performs with a band named Crooked Dice.

Additionally, Filipovich is in the process of starting a music in the park series with a local parks and recreation department.

“There are so many other doors than what you would originally think with the music industry,” he said.

Bringing the blues

During his stop at Valley Crossing last week Filipovich brought harmonicas for each student in two sixth-grade classes, which he then taught students how to play in addition to discussing the history of the blues.

“I wish I had that kind of introduction as an elementary student,” Valley Crossing music teacher Deb Graf said. “It was introduced to me so late and by then I was classically trained and now I have a lot of hangups about playing the blues.

“If you introduce the blues at a younger age, the kids are less inhibited and willing to give it a try.”

Following his workshops at Valley Crossing, Filipovich performed for students at the school.

“He can introduce our students to the blues as a true blues musician,” Graf said, “rather than their music teacher who plays trombone.”

For his five-week program at East Ridge, which is being called Blues Studio, Filipovich will be working with the school’s two jazz bands.

Students will meet with Filipovich once a week to hear from guest musicians, learn about blues history, blues theory, blues harmonica and eventually learn a few blues songs, including “Sweet Home Chicago” and a few songs by Ray Charles.

“There’s tons of history behind the blues and a lot of jazz is heavily influenced by blues music,” East Ridge band director Brent Comeau said. “It’s great to get back to some of the history and roots of blues music.”

The East Ridge jazz bands will perform their blues songs during a concert at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 2.

Filipovich said it’s exciting to be able introduce a whole new generation to the blues.

“I want to expose kids to the blues,” he said. “I don’t really want to persuade them on the blues, but just introduce them to it.”

Visit for a video of Joe Filipovich’s blues lessons.

Amber Kispert-Smith

Amber Kispert-Smith has been the schools and Afton reporter at the Woodbury Bulletin since 2008. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Minnesota. She previously worked as a reporter for Press Publications in White Bear Lake.

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